Pet Diabetes Facts

Cat lying down on an exam table, getting a shot from a veterinarian

It’s estimated that 1 in every 300 dogs and 1 in 230 cats will develop diabetes during their lifetime — and those statistics keep rising. The 2016 State of Pet Health Report shows an upward trend in the prevalence of the disease, rising nearly 80% in dogs and 18% in cats over a 10-year period.

Keeping pets at a healthy weight can help with prevention, but a variety of other factors play into whether a pet might develop diabetes. Read on to learn more about what causes it and how to recognize the signs.

What Is It?

Diabetes is the inability to control blood glucose levels, either because the body produces no insulin (Type I diabetes mellitus) or becomes resistant to insulin (Type II diabetes mellitus). Insulin pushes glucose in the cells, turning it into energy that fuels the body. Without insulin, glucose can’t reach the cells. This starves the cells, forcing the body to produce more glucose, which then accumulates in the blood.

What Causes It?

Obesity is one of the leading causes of diabetes. However, some breeds are predisposed to the disease, including cocker spaniels, Labrador and golden retrievers, dachshunds, and beagles, as well as Siamese, Burmese, and Maine Coon cats. A variety of medical conditions can also cause diabetes to develop, like Cushing’s disease, pancreatitis, and autoimmunity. Other risk factors include age (middle-age and senior pets are more likely to develop diabetes). Female dogs and neutered male cats are more prone to diabetes. High-fat diets can result in pancreatitis, which can also contribute to diabetes.


What Are the Symptoms?

Some of the warning signs of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased appetite, weight loss, cloudy eyes, and fatigue. Find a vet and schedule an appointment with a veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.

What Can the Treatment Involve?

Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed so your pet can live a long and happy life. If diabetes is left untreated, dogs can develop ketoacidosis, cataracts, and kidney disease. Diabetic cats are susceptible to chronic pancreatitis, ketoacidosis, and nerve degeneration. That’s why early detection and treatment is so important. Treatment generally involves the following:

  • woman walking her beagle dogInsulin therapy: Diabetic pets usually need twice-daily injections to keep their glucose levels under control. While it may sound daunting, your veterinarian can show you how to administer therapy so you can get comfortable doing it at home. Your vet can also advise on what to do if you miss a dose and answer any other questions about insulin therapy.
  • Prescription diet: A proper diet prescribed by your veterinarian will help manage your pet’s diabetes and glucose levels, as well as aid weight loss if your pet is obese.
  • Regular exercise: Daily activity helps maintain proper blood glucose levels and is especially important if your pet needs to lose weight. Keep in mind that weight loss may change your pet’s insulin needs, so check with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is getting the proper dosage as his weight changes.
  • Blood glucose monitoring: Regular testing of your pet’s blood glucose level helps ensure he’s maintaining the proper levels. This can be done at home, but it’s also recommended you take him in for a checkup with your veterinarian every few months.
  • Watch for warning signs: Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) causes excessive thirst, frequent urination, weakness, and vomiting, while the symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are lethargy, weakness, and seizures. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.

It might feel a little overwhelming at first to manage a pet with diabetes, but keeping a daily chart will help you settle into a routine. Use the chart to record your pet’s blood glucose levels, diet, weight, and any changes in behavior. This will ensure your pet is getting the proper treatment and help prevent complications.